Keith Arnold

150608_MalikZaire

Kelly on the QBs: “Everything is on the table”

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A starter and backup. A timeshare. Alternating series—or snaps.

That quarterback battle between DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire? As of today, the possibilities are limitless.

“I have not taken anything off the table. Really. Honestly,” head coach Brian Kelly said, when asked why he wouldn’t play two quarterbacks. “If we go down the roster and look at the playmakers on offense, two of them are on the quarterback side.

“I’ve got to look at all of those and factor every one of them in. For me not to look at every single scenario possible as it relates to the quarterback position, I would not be smart as a football coach. We’ll look at every option and everything that’s available to us to put the best offense on the field. Everything is on the table.”

After spending the spring talking about finding a starter and disappointing one very good football player, this is a far more intriguing comment than maybe any of us will allow.

And why is that?

Maybe it’s the burn we still feel after spending an offseason wondering what the duo of Malik Zaire and Everett Golson could do after their dynamic-duo performance in the bowl win over LSU. Or maybe it’s because we just watched Urban Meyer—still a deity in the eyes of most Irish fans—turn his (regular season) offense into a huge disappointment as he mismanaged a depth chart that was three-deep entering last season and had Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.

But if Kelly has truly backed away from the starter-backup concept and really is willing to play both quarterbacks, what this Notre Dame offense could look like is really an incredible proposition.

Is it Kizer between the 20s and Zaire in the red zone? Is it both guys on the field at once? Is it it a ham-and-egg combo like the near-perfect gameplan we saw against LSU? Or maybe the turbo-speed attack that Irish fans have been clamoring for since the day Kelly got to South Bend?

Both quarterbacks can run. Before Kizer became the team’s goal line and short yardage option, Zaire was ready to be a chain-mover as well and breakaway run threat as well. And gone are the days of worrying what happens when No. 1 goes down. As we saw last year—nothing changes.

Kelly’s certainly not afraid to make an unorthodox decision. Last offseason when he decided to bring Mike Sanford to town, much was made about the offensive coordinator title given to the young assistant, with Mike Denbrock “promoted” to associate head coach.

But that leadership trio went as smoothly as you could ask, taking the Irish offense to new heights, even while breaking in a quarterback who wasn’t accurate enough to hit water from a boat the spring before.

Given an entire offseason to figure out how best to utilize Zaire and Kizer, maybe there’s enough confidence atop the Notre Dame program to go out on that ledge again. Because while it’d certainly be a risk, game planning for both Kizer and Zaire would be a nightmare for opponents.

After day one, it all seems possible. And with Kelly growing more and more comfortable about the competition as it’s finally arrived, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency.

“We don’t have to make a decision until they tell us only one quarterback can play,” Kelly said after the team’s opening practice at Culver Academies. “And that’s right up to Texas.”

Irish A-to-Z: Spencer Perry

Spencer Perry
Rivals / Blue & Gold
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A downhill safety who got to campus early, freshman Spencer Perry is another talented youngster looking to impact Notre Dame’s secondary. A Georgia native who played at the IMG Academy, Perry is another Autry Denson recruit, going into one of the premier programs in the Sunshine State and leaving with the team’s top running back and safety.

With legit size and good pedigree, Perry looks like a strong safety candidate who can come down into the box and run the alleys. After getting a taste of the defense this spring, he’ll enter a depth chart packed with young talent as he competes for playing time this fall.

 

SPENCER PERRY
6’2″, 204 lbs.
Freshman, No. 31, S

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A three-star prospect, Perry was a one-time Florida commitment before flipping to Notre Dame after seeing campus. While he missed the majority of his senior season of high school with a shoulder injury, he was a well-regarded recruit with offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson and Auburn as well.

Perry camped at Notre Dame and participated in the Irish Invasion, committing a week later after loving everything about the school—including the pitch he got from Todd Lyght.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

It was fellow freshman Devin Studstill who stole the headlines for his quick grasp of the defense, but Perry certainly doesn’t get penalized because he looked like an early-enrollee freshman who didn’t play most of his senior season in high school. Especially with the size and athleticism he possesses.

With Drue Tranquill, Avery Sebastian and a handful of other options on the back end, there’s no urgency for Perry to jump in and play, especially when he doesn’t profile as a free safety. That said, he should have a jump start on his fellow classmates, and that could pay dividends. With the offers Perry had before enrolling at Notre Dame, he’s a guy who should be better than a modest three-star ranking.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I’m leaning towards a redshirt season for Perry, unless things go really wrong on the back end with injuries. While he could be a good special teams candidate, roster management might dictate terms here—giving him a chance to fight for playing time in the spring when Max Redfield and Avery Sebastian depart.

The real battle begins this spring, when Tranquill will be a senior and the majority of the safety position will all be in their first and second years of eligibility.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu

Back to the basics as Notre Dame heads to training camp

BK Tom Loy
Tom Loy / Irish247
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Brian Kelly is a sports fan. And he channeled an adage heard from coaches of every kind when he talked about what it would take from his young team to reach their goals.

“This football team is one that’s going to have to do the ordinary things extraordinarily well,” Kelly said Friday. “If they do the basics, the ordinary things, and do them well, it’s going to be a good football team.”

It may be a Crash Davis-approved cliche, but it’s true. Those ordinary things tend to make quite a difference. In baseball parlance, that’s making the routine plays in the field, taking quality at-bats at the plate and throwing strikes from the mound.

In football terms? That’s doing some of the things that… weren’t all that easy for Kelly’s ten-win 2015 squad.

Last year’s Notre Dame team was talented enough to be within 30 seconds of having a very good argument at being the fourth team invited to the College Football Playoff. They did that with a rash of injuries that devastated the depth chart. But those ordinary things got in the way.

Now without some of the best talent we’ve seen in South Bend since Lou Holtz and Vinny Cerrito were in town, Kelly’s asking his team to get back to the basics—and to master them this time around.

It might be too much to ask. Then again, it might be just the right thing to ask.

In Kelly’s first two seasons in South Bend, every time it looked like the team was ready to run at the pace Kelly wanted, they stumbled. Self-inflicted errors ruined two seasons. The ordinary things.

In 2012, a throttled back attack—one that leaned heavily on a stout defense that played fundamentally sound—was good enough to win each and every Saturday the Irish took the field. It wasn’t flashy. It wasn’t all that pretty. But it was effective.

No, Manti Te’o isn’t walking out of that tunnel. But neither is a first-year starter at quarterback. Or skill talent that relied on a converted wide receiver to move the chains as a runner and a great tight end to be the team’s No. 1 receiver.

This roster may certainly lacks the defense that was one of the nation’s—and school’s—best. So while it may be short on start power, it’s heavy on depth and talent, with two great quarterbacks and enough talent to win a lot of games—assuming they don’t find ways to give them away.

That last part is a big reason why Kelly took great pains to build a new identity with this football team. It’s a part of the reason why a system reset was needed, cultivated by an ornery coach in January who sought out new leaders to take charge and control their own destiny.

Good programs don’t rebuild, they reload. That’s what Ohio State’s doing. That’s what Alabama’s doing.

It’s even the expectation at places like Michigan State and Stanford, two teams that’ll come to South Bend with new quarterbacks and rebuilt depth charts. So while there are plenty of holes that need plugging on the Irish roster, that’s what the great programs do.

“Everybody in college football goes through this process of retooling,” Kelly said. It’s getting those that have waited for their opportunity ready to play, and I like where we have evolved to.”

It wasn’t easy. Kelly’s cracked the whip as he molded this group, all while taking long hard looks at the tactics and schemes deployed by Brian VanGorder as well as his offensive staff.

It’s only day one. Everybody wins the opening press conference. And life without Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller, Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day is a lot easier when you’re at a podium than on the sideline.

But if you were expecting any change in expectations from a head coach now trailing just Rockne, Holtz, Parseghian and Leahy in wins at Notre Dame, think again.

“We only have one goal and that is to be one of the four teams to be selected for the playoffs,” Kelly said. Everthing that we look towards is to be one of those four teams selected in the playoffs.

Counting Down the Irish: 2016’s Top Five

McGlinchey
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We’ve reached the top of the roster on Brian Kelly’s seventh team. And while it is no match for last season’s star-studded top five, this group has a chance to put together a tremendous season—and all but one of them have a season (or more) of eligibility remaining.

That’s the rub with this football team. As Brian Kelly explained in his introductory remarks heading into training camp, there’s no shortage of talent on this roster, but they’ll need to grow up quickly and prove that they can do the ordinary things right.

While the top of the heap had some consensus, there were still some wildly different evaluations out there. And you can validate any opinion at this point, just because the top three players on this list all have just one year of starting experience.

Young teams can certainly win football games. But they’ll need to come together quickly. As we move beyond prognosticating, it’ll be interesting to see if this roster—and the panel’s selections— plays to our expectation or if they can exceed it.

 

2016 Irish Top 25 Rankings
25. Equanimeous St. Brown (WR, Soph.)
24. Durham Smythe (TE, Sr.
23. Justin Yoon, (K, Soph.)
22. Tyler Newsome (P, Jr.)
21. Daniel Cage (DT, Jr.)
20. Sam Mustipher (C, Jr.)
19. Jerry Tillery (DT, Soph.)
18. Max Redfield (S, Sr.)
17. CJ Sanders (WR, Soph.)
16. Drue Tranquill (S, Jr.)
15. James Onwualu (OLB, Sr.)

14. Alex Bars (RT, Jr.)
13. Alizé Jones (TE, Soph.)
12. Shaun Crawford (DB, Soph.)
11. Nyles Morgan (LB, Jr.)
10. Tarean Folston (RB, Sr.)
9. Jarron Jones (DT, GS)
8. Josh Adams (RB, Soph.)
7. Cole Luke (CB, Sr.)
6. Malik Zaire (QB, Sr.)

 

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 31: Torii Hunter Jr. #16 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass and is tackled by Avery Williams #2 of the Temple Owls on October 31, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Temple Owls 24-20. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

5. Torii Hunter Jr. (WR, Senior): The only regular returning to the receiving corps, Hunter will be the primary target for Notre Dame’s still-to-be-determined starting quarterback. A smooth athlete with better than advertised speed, Hunter has taken his time developing in the program, with injuries setting him back in two different seasons.

With his baseball career on hold for the time being, Hunter is all about football. And he’ll have every chance to be force-fed the ball this season, with the receiving corps as top heavy as we’ve seen it, especially when it comes to experience.

Hunter isn’t Michael Floyd, Will Fuller or Golden Tate. But he could be senior-season TJ Jones, a versatile playmaker who can bounce around the field and do a little bit of everything. That seems to be the bar we’ve set with Hunter in the top five, mostly based on reputation and a strong spring.

Highest Rank: 3rd. Lowest Rank: 10th.

 

Keenan Reynolds, Isaac Rochell

4. Isaac Rochell (DE, Senior): One of the ironmen of the roster, Rochell led the defensive line in snaps and put together a rock-solid junior season at strong side defensive end. Entering his final year of eligibility, Rochell is healthy and capable of playing just about anywhere, a candidate to move both inside and out.

Rochell has ascended into Sheldon Day’s leadership role, a likely captain as the 2016 squad evolves. If he’s able to turn in Day’s performance wreaking havoc behind the line of scrimmage, the Irish have an intriguing NFL prospect who could have a long football career ahead of him.

A stout run defender who will be difficult to move off the point of attack, Rochell needs to improve as a pass rusher, finding a way to impact the game by getting to the quarterback. If he can add that element to his repertoire, he could have a special season.

Highest Rank: 2nd. Lowest Rank: 11th.

 

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

3. Quenton Nelson (LG, Junior): In just 11 starters, Quenton Nelson has established himself as one of college football’s top guards. A big, strong and long player, Nelson’s got the physical gifts of a tackle and the nasty demeanor of a lineman built for the inside of the trenches.

One of the most powerful run blockers in the country, Nelson will only improve in all facets of the game as he enters his second season in the starting lineup. Lined up next to Mike McGlinchey, the duo might be one of the most physically imposing in all of college football—650 pounds of granite that should protect quarterbacks and power the ground game.

Highest Rank: 2nd. Lowest Rank: 7th.

 

DeShoneKizer

2. DeShone Kizer (QB, Junior): It’s staggering to think that at this time last season, not a single vote was cast for DeShone Kizer. (A sampling of those that received votes: Incoming transfer Avery Sebastian, Nick Watkins, true freshman Justin Yoon and redshirt Jay Hayes.)

What a difference a year makes. Kizer very nearly topped our list, the smallest variance of any player in the eyes of the panel.

Kizer does everything a quarterback should do in a Brian Kelly offense—and has a few other traits that feel like the cherry on top. With the size of a prototype NFL player and the skills of a zone-read runner, Kizer’s offseason was likely spent preparing for a camp competition with Malik Zaire that both players think they’ll win.

At his best, Kizer has the upside of an NFL starter. And with another season under his belt, there’s only room for improvement after seeing and doing things for the very first time in 2015. Two of Notre Dame’s best players are quarterbacks. It’s a tough problem to have, but one every coach would kill for.

Highest Rank: 1st. Lowest Rank: 4th.

 

McGlinchey

1. Mike McGlinchey (LT, Senior): After producing two-straight first round left tackles, the Irish have a third in McGlinchey. While he’s only a second-year starter, McGlinchey came into the preseason viewed as one of college football’s premier talents, understandable when you dig deeper into his performance last season—not to mention just look at him.

McGlinchey was born to be an offensive tackle, and physically he might be the most gifted we’ve seen in recent years. While he’ll be seeing and doing things for the first time, he’s talented enough to use his extraordinary physical gifts to dominate— long arms, quick feet, and great strength, all in a body that could dominate on the basketball court.

Passed the leadership baton from Martin to Martin, McGlinchey is a near lock to be a team captain. And he has a fifth year of eligibility remaining.

Highest Rank: 1st. Lowest Rank: 13th.

 

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Our 2016 Irish Top 25 panel:
Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish
Bryan Driskell, Blue & Gold
Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily
Nick Ironside, Irish 247
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune
Eric Murtaugh, 18 Stripes
Pete Sampson, Irish Illustrated
Jude Seymour, Her Loyal Sons
JJ Stankevitz, CSN Chicago
John VannieNDNation
Joshua Vowles, One Foot Down
John Walters, Newsweek 

Mailbag: Adios Alizé, Return of the Max, and more

Alize Jones getty
10 Comments

Our unusually quiet offseason came to a screeching halt yesterday as Notre Dame announced the loss of Alizé Jones for the season due to academics.

With that warm and fuzzy note, let’s get to the mailbag:

I’m of two minds on this one. The loss of Jones is a big one, no doubt. But I don’t think it’s up there with the Frozen Five or Golson.

For as talented as Jones could be, he had 13 catches for 190 yards last season. That’s not All-American stuff right there, but he certainly isn’t some irreplaceable piece of the puzzle—frankly, I think he’s only an incremental loss, considering some of the young talent like Javon McKinley, Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin.

Of course, a week earlier I ranked him the 13th best player on my roster. I did that begrudgingly, trying to project someone to step forward as a pass catcher other than Torii Hunter. (I didn’t feel safe ranking a freshman there.) So yeah, it stinks. But I’m already on the “Next Man In” train.

 

cfarri84: Who do you think is the most under the radar member of each position group? …Just wanted to know which individual in each position group you think will be that kind of an under the radar talent that we don’t see as being a big deal now, but will probably wow us by seasons end.

I love terms like this because I essentially get to make up the rules of what they mean. Here goes nothing:

QB: There isn’t an under the radar QB at ND, but I think we’ll hear more from Malik Zaire than we expected. (Not sure how that’ll happen yet, but that’s my hunch.)

RB: Tarean Folston. You’ll remember why he was No. 1 last year.

TE: Durham Smythe, come on down!

OL: First-year starter… (flipping coin) …Sam Mustipher!

DL: Daelin or Jay Hayes. (No relation)

LB: Greer Martini

DB: Cole Luke — he’s going to have a big year.

 

mattymill: Rarely do we see a player who didn’t contribute at all in their 1st 2 yrs actually turn into an impact player in yrs 3-5. Best example would be Jeff Samardzija. Do you have anyone in mind on current roster who you feel could be a big contributor starting this year — could be RS Soph or true Jr.

Here are the true juniors or redshirt sophomores that I have ranked in my Top 25:

Alex Bars, Daniel Cage, DeShone Kizer, Greer Martini, Nyles Morgan, Quenton Nelson, Tyler Newsome, Drue Tranquill and  Nick Watkins.

I legitimately think everyone of those guys could have a very big season—and they’d all be considered “breakouts” minus Kizer. We’re not going to have another Samardzija—a guy who goes from a bench warmer to an All-American, at least not without another regime change. But those are the guys I think you can peg as candidates. (And maybe throw Corey Holmes in there, too, especially if he becomes deep threat guy with that breakaway speed.)

 

danirish: Do we finally see the “Real” Max Redfield?

What makes you think that we haven’t seen him yet? I’m just hoping we see the “Best” Max Redfield this season. That’d make me happy.

 

Don’t think it’ll matter, but I’ve seen weirder things. I still think he’s a depth chart piece, but that’s a solid prediction. Tell you after we hear from BK.

 

jmset3: If we could personify beer, which beer would you marry? Which beer would you kill? Finally, which beer would you spend a crazy night in Vegas with, then hope you never have to talk about that beer again, it’s memory stashed away in the deepest darkest depths of your brain?

This game isn’t for the kiddies, but I did think it was fun enough to answer. If I’m looking to marry a beer, I’ll go with Budweiser. Criminally underrated from a taste/price perspective. Give the ol’ America a shot again if you haven’t done so lately. You won’t be disappointed.

If I’m killing a beer, I’d like to erase Miller Lite from the planet. Unless it’s in a tailgate/binge situation, there’s really no good reason to drink this stuff.

A crazy night in Vegas? (Those don’t exist for me anymore.) If I’m treating myself to something a little nutty, I’ll go with a Ballast Point Habanero Sculpin.

 

newmexicoirish: it was revealed last year that offensive play calling was done through a coaching triumvirate. Do you see that being reduced to a single coach this season, or do you think there is even a need for it? 

Why change something that clearly worked?

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For more on Alizé Jones’ suspension, Notre Dame’s new media agreement with Bleacher Report, and a whole bunch of other stuff, give our latest episode of Blown Coverage a listen.